The Volunteer Advantage


Colleges and universities LOVE applicants with volunteer experience. These opportunities tell how the high schooler used his or her time, in other words, how the young adult spent his or her hours outside of books and traditional learning environments. In fact, some colleges value community service so highly that they are offering scholarships for accomplishments in service. 

And, some states--like ours--require volunteer service for merit scholarships. 

Knowing what universities look for regarding community service and researching your state's merit scholarship may prove beneficial to your high school learner.

Al Nunez, Director of Admissions at Illinois Institute of Technology, was interviewed for the November 12, 2013 issue of U.S. News and World Report. In that interview he encouraged students to highlight their accomplishments.

Applying to a university is your time to brag about yourself. Talk about all the things that you’ve done, including jobs, including whether you’ve volunteered at your church or did community service.

Why volunteer?

  • Volunteer opportunities offer opportunities for high schoolers to learn more about themselves and impact the lives of other people.
  • Community service may provide leadership opportunities. Colleges and universities are looking for applicants who have taken on leadership roles. 
  • High schoolers preferring hands-on, experiential learning with interpersonal interactions can thrive in these environments. Truly, this can be an area where kinesthetic learners can thrive.
  • Service opportunities can help high schoolers fine tune what they enjoy, how they learn best, and what career field they may want to pursue. 
  • Volunteer opportunities also make great experiential stories for application essays.
  • When the time comes to request letters of recommendation for college admission, professionals and supervisors who have worked with the high schooler through volunteer opportunities may be willing to write on the applicant's behalf, commenting about work ethic, acquired skills, and character.

As evaluators, we've enjoyed the company of high school young adults who've benefited from the volunteer advantage. One particular young lady we know served thousands (no exaggeration) of hours which provided her a competitive advantage and helped her land a $25,000 scholarship. 

Why NOT volunteer?

Service hours are just that, opportunities to serve with a sincere heart. They are not requirements or obligations to meet. Often there are people on the receiving end and those people matter. People are not projects or resume enhancements and they don't want to be served with that type of attitude. When volunteer hours become boxes to check off, they are no longer means by which to serve with empathy and compassion. 

In addition, often community service becomes a means by which the parent-child relationship is strained. We all fall into the nagging "Did you log your hours?" trap at one time or another. Stress and fear will affect our high schooler's attitudes toward service. When we do, it is time to back up and reflect on that matters.

Where volunteer? 

Volunteering, like many other aspects of the high school years, is another venue to build relationship and communication skills. Brainstorm ideas together. Talk about volunteer etiquette. Role play requests or phone interviews.

These ideas may be talking points. 

  • serve at local animal shelters
  • raise and train service animals
  • sort groceries in food pantry or shelter
  • serve meals at homeless shelter
  • serve as a police explorer
  • provide service at local horse barn 
  • serve in local teen court
  • help with registration and water distribution for marathons and fun runs. 
  • deliver Meals-on-Wheels
  • serve with Special Olympics or local Down's syndrome chapter (graduate schools often host these types of events)
  • read to children in children's home or residents in assisted living and memory care facilities
  • create floral arrangements for church altar
  • weed flower beds for non-profit or local recreation center
  • be a safety ambassador for National Safety Council
  • design a website for church or local non-profit organization
  • provide counter or concession help for sports events
  • place flags on grave sites of veterans
  • tutor elementary students
  • collect clothing and non-perishables for shelters and crisis centers
  • work with a political campaign 
  • serve on a building team for Habitat for Humanity
  • be a mentor with Big Brothers, Big Sisters
  • serve as a junior assistant coach for youth sports
  • collect food or other needed items for animal shelters 
  • prepare a meal or care packs at Ronald McDonald homes (usually near children's hospitals)
  • pack meals for hurricane or typhoon relief
  • gather crayons, small tablets, or other items for pew packs to be given to small worshippers.
  • usher at local theater 
  • work at the local library
  • volunteer at local science center
  • serve at wildlife rehabilitation or Audubon center
  • provide musical entertainment or puppetry at assisted living and memory care centers
  • play or sing with church worship teams
  • serve on disaster relief teams
  • sew costuming for theatrical performances
  • construct music or theater sets
  • provide babysitting or childcare for Bible studies, MOPS meetings, or parent meetings
  • plan a birthday celebration for residents at assisted living center

Like many aspects of the high school experience, not all colleges require or put equal weight on the same admission requirements. Princeton ranks admission requirements here. Research and knowledge are important. What is beneficial to one learner will not be beneficial to another. 

Will volunteer and community service benefit your high schooler? 

The answer will be unique to your high schooler and may be only conversations and clicks away. Your efforts will make a difference, not only for your high school learner but also for the people who are blessed to benefit from his or her sincere service.

YOU can celebrate high school! 


The contents of this post are meant to share personal experience and are not intended to be legal or educational advice.